Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

When Ripley’s announced they were going to put an aquarium in Gatlinburg, there were two questions that everybody asked:  Where? & When?  Well, they built it in the center of town, right off River Road at traffic light 5.  It is impossible to miss this complex that has become as much a part of the scenery of Gatlinburg as the Aerial Tramway to Ober Gatlinburg.  Opening in late in 2000, this attraction is more than a decade old and has become one of the most visited family attractions in the Smokies.

With an aquarium, you expect to see tanks full of fish.  Ripley’s has designed an aquarium that allows you to roam from tank to tank, making sure that you are able to see fish in as natural an environment as possible.  The aquarium boasts over 10,000 aquatic animals, some of which you can even hold and touch.  This is a world class aquarium, bringing you salt water animals from all over the world.  As you walk from tank to tank you explore places as diverse as the Amazon Rain Forest, the Pacific Ocean and coral reefs.  Each exhibit has been painstakingly designed to give you a sense of being close to the action – of being in the water with the fish.

Two of the exhibits are hands-on.  The Discovery Center lets you explore different aspects of the seas and get even closer to some of the fish you have been seeing.  Included in this area is a flowing water exhibit that allows you to pick up and handle a horseshoe crab, one of the oldest and most unchanged animals on the planet.  Being able to reach into the shallow water and touch these oddities of the undersea world is both unique and exciting.  As you near the exit of the aquarium, you will find yourself at Touch-a-Ray Bay.  This location lets you gets hands on with small rays and shark in a safe environment.  Divers and aquarium staff are on hand to teach you about the animals you are touching and make sure that everyone gets a chance to get hands on.

Ripley's Aquarium of the SmokiesOne of the most unique features of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a trip through the underwater tunnel which brings you through the world of a coral reef with a huge mixture of animals.  You stand on a moving walkway that passes through this amazing world.  Sharks soar past, inches from your head.  Sea turtles glide gracefully through the water and all this time you are moving slowly through a tunnel enjoying the amazing scenery and the spectacle around you.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a must do activity in the Smoky Mountains.  Thousands of visitors go through their exhibits each season, making this one of the most visited attractions in the area.  A well designed and maintained attraction with an experience that will stick with you for years to come.  Make the aquarium a stop for you and your loved ones on your next trip to Gatlinburg.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
88 River Rd
Gatlinburg, TN
865-430-8808

Gatlinburg, TN

Gatlinburg, TN is a typical little mountain town but what they have to offer visitors to the area is anything but ‘little.’  With shopping lining both sides of the Parkway, attractions at every corner, you can visit Gatlinburg and never leave the mountain.  Nestled right against the Smoky Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg beauty only slightly surpasses its adventure.

Though the Cherokee hunted in the flats around the present day city of Gatlinburg, the first European settlers to the area came due to South Carolina native William Ogle.  Though Ogle never lived in the area for very long his relatives did end up coming to the area and settling in the Cartertown area of Gatlinburg.  1856 saw the first post office being formed in the Radford Gatlin general store.  Though the people of the area didn’t care for Gatlin they liked his name and kept it after they ran Gatlin out of town.

The logging industry in the late 1800s kept the town going but the real boon for the town was when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was founded.  The National Park being located on the boundary of the Gatlinburg brings millions of visitors through the town each year, this has made Gatlinburg a central location for people visiting the Smokies.

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Lodge at Buckberry Creek Restaurant

Fine Dining in the Smokies

Recently, on an anniversary date with my wife, we decided to try something new: the restaurant at the Lodge at Buckberry Creek.  This establishment had been recommended to us by friends and they told us that it was the best dining experience in the Smokies. I have lived here since 1996 and I thought I had heard about all of the supposed ‘best dining’ experiences an I had not heard of this one before.  Little did I know that we were in for the best meal we had ever had as a couple.

I called the Lodge at Buckberry Creek because it had also been suggested that we get reservations and that we sit outside if at all possible.  I spoke to a very nice lady at their front desk that made the reservation for me and when I asked if we could sit outside, said that was no problem at all and told me everything was taken care of.  She also gave me directions to the lodge itself.  We left our house in Sevierville and headed to Gatlinburg (it is great to live so close to the Smokies).  We arrived at the lodge and parked near the lobby.  The entrance for the restaurant is through the lobby area, so if you arrive and are trying to figure out where to go, just head to the check in desk.  We were taken straight to our table on the deck outside and were treated to the best view you can imagine.

The deck off the back of the restaurant looks out over the park to Gatlinburg.  You can just barely see Gatlinburg from the deck and there are none of the garish lights or noise drifting in from town.  This was in October so it was a bit chilly and the fall colors were perfect.  The waitress, a very professional and courteous young lady got a fire going in the outside fireplace and in moments we were toasty warm.  The staff at the restaurant is amazing.  Every single person that we dealt with was wonder, well-informed with the menu and ready to help in any way that they can.  She gave us menus, explained the specials and took our orders.  Throughout the meal she was the perfect waitress:  always there when we needed her but unobtrusive.  Back to the menu and the food

The menu changes all the time.  It is based on what ingredients are fresh and what the chef feels like cooking that night.  This use of fresh seasonal ingredients make for an amazing experience in the mountains.  I ordered a veal porterhouse and my wife had the beef tenderloin.  The sides were paired with the entrée to bring out all the flavors of the food.  The chef sent out a special to all the tables (in this case a special sausage that he had crafted for the evening) and the artisan bread was out of this world.  Quite literally this is the best meal that we have had in the Smoky Mountains and though we keep looking, we have not found a place to top it yet.

Lodge at Buckberry Creek
961 Campbell Lead Road
Gatlinburg, TN
1-866-30-Lodge

Ober Gatlinburg Set to Open Friday for Snow Tubing

*Ober Gatlinburg is scheduled to open their snow tubing park Friday, November 16th, 2012.

The idea that good skiing can only be found in the northeast or out west has been debunked by places like Ober Gatlinburg in the recent years. With the number of great changes every year to the current resort, things look to be getting even better at Ober. And that starts this year with an even earlier opening date thanks to some new snow making equipment.

Right now, officials with Ober Gatlinburg plan on opening the snow tubing area this Friday. Their new Snow Magic system has enabled the Gatlinburg resort to begin snow making even earlier, and in less than adequate temperatures.

When you think of the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort, you think winter sports from skiing to snowboarding and everything in between. Here, you can experience all your favorite winter sports on 8 different trails, varying from beginner to the advanced. Experience the breathtaking views and vistas of the Smoky Mountains on your way down the slopes. You’ll notice the majesty of the Smokies’ snowy peaks, white forests, and the lights of Gatlinburg. For the novice skier, or if this is your first time skiing or snowboarding, take a lesson at Ober’s Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School, located at the resort. You can take lessons as an individual or with a group. It’s a great way for families, friends, or large groups to learn how to ski.

Ober’s gear store allows people who don’t own skis or boards to rent everything they need before hitting the slopes. They offer ski gear in a variety of sizes and styles for kids and adults.

If you’re in town during the spring, summer, or fall, don’t think that Ober just shuts everything down because the temperature is a bit warmer. Ober Gatlinburg’s amusement park features some great warm weather attractions like the Alpine Slide, an indoor ice skating rink, and a scenic chairlift that takes visitors on picturesque rides up Mount Harrison. Guests will also find a waterslide, arcade, pirate ship, bungee jumping, bumper cars, Velcro jump wall, shooting range, and mini golf course at Ober. Ober Gatlinburg literally has something new around every corner. You could visit twice and still find new activities you didn’t get to try the first time.

Winter sports at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort is a must on everyone’s Smokies “To Do” list. Ski or snowboard the slopes, ride up and down the mountain, or just take in the spectacular views of Gatlinburg and the Smokies.

Arrowmont

Gatlinburg’s Arrowmont truly is a school of art education set against one of most ideal artistic backdrops – the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Arrowmont’s school of arts and crafts is a tool for anyone to make use of who wants to expand their art education. One- and two-week courses highlight the curriculum and artists the world over make up the school’s revolving faculty.

Arrowmont SIgnLocated on a 14-acre residential campus in Gatlinburg, TNArrowmont offers a series of weekly classes. They include instructional courses in books, ceramics, drawing, fiber, metals/jewelry, mixed media, painting, paper, photography, warm glass, wood-turning, and woodworking.

Arrowmont is open year round. Browse the artwork of worldly artists in the school’s five galleries. The Marian Heard Library and Resource Center includes print and electronic materials and work is always on display from Arrowmont’s permanent collection there for those looking for more research opportunities. The Artist Outfitters Store provides all the art supplies and tools that a student might need.

Over the years a number of area schools in the Smoky Mountain region have benefited greatly from a sharing learning initiative offered through Arrowmont. ArtReach, a program in partnership with Sevier County Schools, gives 1,000 students from grades 4-12, the opportunity for a full day of in-depth, art classes at Arrowmont each year.

Arrowmont recently marked its 100th birthday as a center for art education in the Smokies. At first, Arrowmont taught area children from a general education curriculum in a settlement school setting. Before long though mountain handicrafts found their into the school’s teachings. These teachings were infused into each child’s regular education in order to preserve the skills of the residents whose livelihood depended on more agriculturally-based teachings. Arrowmont’s signature summer workshop program was launched in 1945 and the school welcomed people from all over the country who were interested in furthering their art education against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains. Today, more than 130 classes in contemporary art and crafts are offered throughout the center’s seasonal sessions.

Arrowmont operates Monday – Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm, and on Saturdays from 8:30 am to 4 pm. Hours expand to seven days a week during the spring, summer and fall workshops programs. During winter classes, the galleries, resource center and the book/supply store are also open extended hours.

Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre

Quicksilver Nonsense!

Sweet Fanny Adams TheatreAre you looking for the oldest live show on the Tennessee side of the Smokies?  Look no further than Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre (SFAT)!  Since 1977, they have been producing and staging brand new works of musical comedy, year after year after year.  They are located in one of the most intimate venues in the Smokies and if you are looking for that something that is completely out of the norm, you are looking for SFAT, you may just not know it yet.

Don and Pat MacPherson opened the Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, still at its original location, in 1977.  They had been in the movies and on stage as writers, actors and entertainers for years and when their family began to grow they fled to the Smokies to have a haven in which to raise their children.  And now, those same children that grew up in and around the theater are running this madhouse and making people laugh and roll in the aisles.  In fact, sometimes you can catch three generations of MacPherson in the theater.  This wonderful history and the family environment shine through in all their performances.  And if you go more than once, you will find that even the audience has become part of the family.

Something that sets the shows at Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre apart from the rest of the shows in town is the fact that each year, SFAT brings a new show to stage each season.  They write, produce and mount a new show each spring that brings in the funny and the bawdy humor that people have come to expect each season.  Usually they run two shows a week.  One is a brand new production while the second show is a follies-style show.  The original show lasts through the first half of the night.  The follies show is a collection of short pieces that are all tied together, however loosely that may be.  Each season at SFAT gives you the opportunity to experience brand new , live entertainment in a music hall atmosphere.

Sweet Fanny Adams TheatreIf you are looking for Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, you don’t have to search very hard.  They are located in the middle of Gatlinburg at traffic light #3.  Also at traffic light #3 is a parking garage, so finding parking for SFAT is not very difficult either.  Look for the smiling faces of the people welcoming their guests into a vaudeville theatre, barking to fill the house and you have found Sweet fanny Adams.

Experience tradition in Gatlinburg.  Experience the wonder of a turn of the century music hall right in the heart of Gatlinburg.  Make sure that Sweet Fanny Adams is on your list ‘to do’ while you are in the Smokies.

Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre
461 Parkway
Gatlinburg, TN
(865) 436-4038

Gatlinburg Trail

  • 1.9 miles in length
  • Starting Points – Sugarlands Visitors Center or River Road in Gatlinburg near traffic light 10
  • Points of Interest – Footbridge over the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River & CCC homesites
  • Difficulty – 1

Gatlinburg TrailAre you looking for an easy trail?  Are you wanting to hike but not end up passed out on the side of the mountain because the elevation was just too much to take?  Then the Gatlinburg Trail might be your best option.  Starting from either Gatlinburg or from the Sugarlands Visitors Center, you are looking at an almost 2 mile hike with very little elevation climb and a beautiful scenery as you wind through the lower altitudes of the Smokies along the Little Pigeon River.

I like to start this hike from the Gatlinburg end if the trail.  Park in Gatlinburg along River Road or arrive early and you might can park across from the trailhead itself.  Hop out of the car and start on the trail.  You start right next to the river – and if you are just looking to go wading, this is the spot.  Within the first half a mile of the trail there are several places that you can walk right down to the river.  Also, in the first half you will come to the first big highlight on this trail – the footbridge.

Gatlinburg TrailThe footbridge over the Little Pigeon River is THE reason to hike this trail, and it is also part of the reason that most people start from the Gatlinburg end of the trail.  The footbridge allows you to see upstream and downstream on the Little Pigeon.  It is a perfect place for a family photo.  Also, right past the bridge there is a path that leads down under the bridge for a great opportunity to play in the water.  When you are ready to continue your hike, jump out of the water and head back up to the bridge, hiking away from Gatlinburg into the mountains.

Another half mile of hiking, about halfway down the trail, you will come to the next big highlight.  You will have gained some elevation slowly over the course of the trail and on your right (again if you are headed toward Sugarlands) you will see a chimney.  This chimney marks one of the CCC Camps that helped to make this trail into the wilderness.  The CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps were conscientious objectors to World War II that were used to help establish the trails and facilities in the National Park.  Around the park you will find relics, left over from where these people lived and worked in the GSMNP.

Gatlinburg TrailThere is one thing to remember when you are hiking the Gatlinburg Trail, it is a one way trail.  This is not a loop that will bring you back to the place you started so you will have to hike the 2 miles back to the trailhead you started from unless you have dropped a car off at the other end of the trail.  That means that you are looking at around 4 miles of hiking inside of almost 2 if you have to hike back.  This is just something to keep in mind for any of the trails in the park that are not loop trails.

Christ in the Smokies

cits1One of the perennial attraction sin Gatlinburg, for years, was Christus Gardens.  Several years ago, Christus Gardens closed and it was thought that the location where it had been for years, was going to become a set of condominiums.  Well, that deal fell through and the management team of Christus Gardens opened a new attraction:  Christ in the Smokies Museum and Gardens.

Much like Christus Gardens, Christ in the Smokies depicts various scenes from the bible and life of Jesus in life-sized dioramas, with painstaking detail.  From the architecture to the clothing that is one by the models in the dioramas, the artists at Christ in the Smokies have made sure to be as historical as possible in an attempt to let people get a better feel for the heroes of their faith.  You get to walk scene to scene and experience the various parts of the bible like never before.

cits3One of the most moving and emotional exhibits is the depiction of the Last Supper.  The Christ in the Smokies staff has duplicated the Leonard da Vinci fresco in every detail.  From the items on the table to the colors on the clothes of the Disciples and Jesus, they have copied the entire scene.  You get t a better sense for the meeting of these friends for the meal they were sharing and for the emotion of the scene.  As you take in the scene you feel like you are there, like you are actually taking part in the least meal that Christ took with the disciples before he was arrested.

Another highlight of the tour is the gardens.  In the center of the garden is the face of Jesus carved into a marble block.  This marble sculpture has been carved to give the impression that the face of Jesus follows you wherever you stand in the garden.  It is a trick of the eye and a true testament to the artists that designed it.  This amazing piece of art has been in the same spot in this garden for decades. It has become a tradition for people of all ages to bring their families back for this unique experience.

cits2Christ in the Smokies Museum & Gardens is one of the most wonderful museums of its type in the southeast.  There are always new exhibits going into the museum and you will find something new every time you walk through the doors.  Add Christ in the Smokies to your itinerary next time you are in the Smokies, you might just find that you are blessed by the experience.

Christ in the Smokies Museum & Gardens
510 River Road
Gatlinburg, TN
http://christinthesmokies.com/

Newfound Gap Road Re-Opens Early Following January Landslide

Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) which runs from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, NC reopened Monday, April 15 2013 following a three month closure. The road was closed due to a January landslide that washed away a 200-foot section of pavement.

Work on the road was actually completed a month ahead of time, and as a reward for finishing the job early, contractors Phillips and Jordan Inc. will receive a $500,000 bonus, funded by the National Park Service and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The contract awarded to Phillips & Jordan, Inc. in January, totaled nearly $4 million and included incentives totaling $8,000 per day that the project was completed ahead of the May deadline.

In re-constructing the damaged section of Newfound Gap Road, engineers installed pipes to allow for the drainage of subsurface water flow along with side drainage leading to a culvert at the end of the slope.

Heavy rainfall and an underground stream combined to loosen thousands of tons of rock, soil and trees in January. It was estimated that 9,000 dump truck-loads of dirt, rock and road slid 45 feet down the side of the mountain.

A subsurface spring underneath the road was believed to be the mitigating factor for the landslide, in addition to the heavy rain that had poured over the area for a number of days. Between Monday and Wednesday the week of January 14, nearly 8 inches of rain were said to have fallen in the area.

Gatlinburg Golf Course

Best Municipal Golf Course in all 50 States – Golf Digest

With all the majestic beauty surrounding you when you visit the Smokies, it is no wonder that people choose to come to the area to spend some time on a golf course.  The majestic sweep of the mountains draw the eye to the beautiful shapes of the golf courses in the area.  One of those courses that has been bringing people and clubs to spend some time outdoors is the Gatlinburg Golf Course.

Now, first things first, this golf course is not in Gatlinburg but it is the municipal golf course for the city of Gatlinburg and the only golf course in Pigeon Forge.  If you have been coming to the area for a long time you know that the Gatlinburg Golf Course is located on Dollywood Lane which goes to the old entrance to Dollywood.  Get on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge and find traffic light 8.  Turn onto Veterans Boulevard and head up the hill away from the Parkway.  When you come to the next traffic light on Veterans, turn right.  You will be beside the golf course at this point.  The next drive way on the right is the entrance to the Gatlinburg Golf Course.  Make your tee time reservation before time and as you turn in check out the natural beauty of the area.

The course itself is built into the natural landscape of the foothills of the Smokies.  And this is the reason why people love this golf course.  It has been renovated twice since it was opened and it provides challenging holes ranging in length and difficulty.  All told, this is a 6,281 yard course.  One of the signature holes has become known as Sky Hi.  This hole is only 194 yards in length, but it drops 200 feet from the tee to the green.  Even the most seasoned veteran golfer is going to find the joy and fun in trying to place the ball on the green from that dramatic drop in height.

Green Fees – Fees include 18 holes with a cart

June through October and Holidays:

  • $60 before noon
  • $50 Noon to 4pm
  • $40 After 4pm
  • $30 9-Hole fee
April, May and November:
  • $55 Before noon
  • $45 After noon
  • $30 9-Hole fee
For more information on fees and tee times please call the pro shop (800) 231-4128.  You can also reserve your tee times online.
If you are a golfer, you owe it to yourself to spend some time on this amazing course.  Just once play the game you love in the setting of the Smoky Mountains.  Play the full 18 at Gatlinburg Golf Course.  Tackle Sky Hi and see if you are up for the challenge.  If you are in town with a large group this golf course can certainly accomodate any size outing.  Give Gatlinburg Golf Course a chance to show you why they are one of the top courses in the area.

Gatlinburg Golf Course
520 Dollywood Lane
Pigeon Forge, TN
865-453-3912
http://golf.gatlinburg.com